Persuasive Essay: Should African Americans Receive Reparations for Slavery?

Slavery is a dark spot in the United States' history and it still is the cause of many bitter confrontations in the society. Even after more then hundred years after its abolishment, the legacy of slavery is still felt until this day. African American population is making considerable progress integrating in the “mainstream” American society, but the are no early signs that this process will end any time soon (Ogletree). African Americans today, as a group, have less education, lower levels of income, and poorer quality of life in general than their Caucasian counterparts. What is the reason for this discrepancy? Is it because African Americans are less hard-working and less willing to adapt to the new economic realities than the white suburbia, as many Caucasians may believe? (Williams) Surely not, as there are accomplished, affluent, and universally respected African Americans today. The problem is that as a group, their percentage is much smaller than that of Caucasians.

It must be then, that something deep in the African Americans' collective psyche that reinforces the current social position that African American demographic occupies. We should be quick to add that in 2005, there are no legal barriers for minorities to use the same societal resources and enjoy the same benefits as the prevalent Caucasian population. That something that holds the African Americans from believing that this is their country, where they have every right and opportunity to take responsibility and live on par with the rest of the population, is the haunting legacy of being second-class human beings from the years of slavery. Let us remember, that slavery really ended only in the 1950s with the abolishment of segregation. It is not surprising then, that slavery-originated discrimination is active, but perhaps not as visible, today. The extend of the problem could be witnessed as recently as 1990s, when street gangs formed primarily by African Americans trashed and destroyed the white man's property in a rebellious attempt in downtown LA.  Surely, collective outbursts of discontent like these, are the best proof of the conflict that is exists deep in the fabric of America's society.

Plain and clear, if America wants to be a unified nation, then there is no place for old grudges. Undeniably, the damage done to the African American population during the slavery period still echoes in the subconscious of today's ancestors. The question is not whether there is a need to undo the harm. The question is about the best way to do so.

There have been many attempts to collect the reparation for the African Americans already. There is even a movement within the African American community (reparation movement) (Ogletree) that researches historical data and seeks ways to collect the compensation. In its most straightforward form, the reparations could mean a sum of money paid to the slave descendants. This is, in fact, how many African Americans think that compensation should be carried out (Williams).

But let us examine for a second, what will happen after the sum, however, significant for the receiver, will be paid. Granted, the person will find some good ways to use the extra income, but will it be enough to raise his or her well being and aspirations to a new qualitative level? The money may be enough raise the living standard or perhaps to even send the person's child to college, but it will fail to repair  the collective identity. Now let us examine what will happen on the payee's side. For one, there will be initial resentment with full-swing legal battles to begin with. Then, after the compensation will finally be given out, the payee will rightfully feel that there are no further obligations whatsoever regarding the slavery issue. Thus at the end we will end up with select members of African American community with a little more money on their hands, while the Caucasian population will feel that the deal is sealed. So when the whole country wakes up the next morning, the same old stereotypes will prevail and perhaps even will become more encouraged (Williams).

When analyzing the reparations issue, we need to keep in mind the ultimate goal, which is repairing the negative effects done to the whole African American population, or, worded in another way, to bring up the African American population to the same standards of living that are enjoyed by the descendants of their former slave owners. The only feasible way to achieve this is to address the whole population as a group, by spending the reparations money on improving education opportunities, addressing the unemployment and welfare issues (Ogletree). Not only this will guarantee the increased well-being of the whole African American population; this will also raise the quality level of the inter-racial relationships in the United States.


Ogletree, J. Charles. Litigating the Legacy of Slavery. Harvard Law School website.

Williams, Juan. Slavery Isn't the Issue. The Wall Street Journal.